Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Fourth of July, Part Two

After a day at Disney World, my husband and I were ready to spend the evening at a traditional small-town celebration (no pun intended). Unfortunately, it looked like Mother Nature might not cooperate. Much of the sky was filled with angry black clouds spitting lightning and thunderbolts. The previous night had been a total washout until the wee hours, and we were afraid that we might be in for more of the same.

But we are nothing if foolhardy. Armed with rain ponchos and umbrellas, we figured that a little rain (or even a Florida monsoon) wouldn’t hurt us. Our neighbor was planning to walk downtown, too, so together the three of us headed down the street toward the East Village walking path as though we were on our way to the Emerald City of Oz.

Of course, the moment we stepped out of the driveway, the raindrops decided to fall. They were big, fat, sporadic ones, and we decided that God was just having a little fun at our expense. We figured that if we went through the trouble of donning our rain gear and opening our umbrellas, the rain would stop. It took a few minutes, but finally it faded away, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

We saw many other people with the same idea as us: walk, don’t drive! If you live close enough or are able-bodied enough, walking is definitely your best bet. We left around 7 p.m., and at that hour we were probably already in the crowd at Market Street by the time people who were driving the same distance managed to find a parking spot.

Holiday celebrations like the Fourth are one of the times that I’m very happy to live in East Village. I’m sure there is a certain ambiance to living downtown, right in the thick of things, but you pay a steep price when thousands of tourists descend on the town. I saw lots of “No Parking” signs in the alleys, which I’m sure were routinely ignored. Cars had filled in every available bit of asphalt and also most of the grassy areas. Anything that would possibly pass for a parking lot had been unofficially converted to one. We didn’t venture past downtown on Celebration Avenue, but I heard that cars lined the street all the way to the bridge that leads into town.

When we arrived, the people were wall to wall. We somehow managed to find our neighbor’s friend among the mass sea of humanity, and we swam our way to one of the Columbia booths to kick off the evening with a cold sangria. We poked around the booth and collected some freebies (cardboard fans, cup cozies, sun screen, and the like). Then my husband and I parted from our neighbor, planning to hook up again after the fireworks thanks to the miracle of cell phones.

We decided to have lobster pot pie from the Town Tavern as our dinner. We had brought our portable camp chairs, so it was a simple matter to set up a temporary base camp near the corner of the tavern by the travel agency. There was a cluster of children playing with sparklers between the two buildings and sneaking in firecrackers every now and then, although the sheriffs kept putting a stop to that. The lobsters pies were greasy but good, so we decided to top them off with pineapple sherbet. Hubby went off to buy it while I held down the fort.

I must have looked like a townie (I guess that’s no surprise, given the camp chairs and the Celebration t-shirt), as a few tourists stopped by to ask where the fireworks would be and what time. Resisting the urge to reply, “10 p.m. in Reunion,” I pointed out the lake and told them it was slated for 9 p.m. Personally, I wasn’t firmly convinced that it would happen, as the dark, threatening clouds were gathering in full force.

It took a while to get the dessert, since the Town Tavern was doing a booming business in alcohol. Hubby was stuck in line behind an endless stream of people seeking cold beer and the like. The sherbet turned out to be worth the wait. It was in a scooped-out pineapple half, and it was so cool and refreshing!

When we were done eating, we decided to take a potty break and then stake out a spot to watch the fireworks. As we headed toward Lakeside Park, we saw the most glorious sight: a rainbow over Celebration! Just as God had once promised Noah that there would never be another flood, He was apparently promising the town that we would have our fireworks after all, despite the teaser raindrops. And He was as good as His promise, as it did indeed hold off for the evening.

Near Lakeside there was a row of porta-potties and an endless line of cross-legged people waiting for relief. Fortunately, we had remembered to bring our “secret decoder ring” passes to get into the Lakeside Park pool and use the facilities there. Either the area was filled mostly with tourists, or we were the only ones who had remember our pass, but the pool restrooms were pretty much deserted.

Once we had found relief, it was time to choose a viewing spot. For the Founders Day fireworks, the grass around the water near Lakeside had been largely deserted. For the Fourth, it was wall to wall humanity. But the pool area was all but deserted, so we settled in with a few other people who’d been lucky enough to find the area and watched for the lights on Market Street to dim.

The show began almost at the stroke of 9 p.m. We were in a perfect spot, opposite from where the fireworks were being shot off, so we leaned back and watched the bursts of color explode almost right over our heads. There seemed to be a decided red, white, and blue to the theme, but my favorites were the multi-colored bursts. My only disappointed was that there weren’t many of the “shaped” fireworks. I love the ones that make a star or whatever, but there were only a few that looked like Saturn. Oh well, that was only a minor point. Overall, it was a great show and a perfect capper to the Fourth of July evening.

When the last blast and spark of color had faded from the sky, we joined the stream of salmon to make our way down Front Street towards the walking path. The crowd of people was unreal. We made slow but steady progress, marred only by the person behind me who kept ramming his baby stroller into my heels. Maybe he thought that would start a chain reaction to speed things up, but it only served to annoy me. Then I remembered that I was carrying my enormous golf umbrella. Normally I carry it point down, but somehow it shifted so that the point was aimed back behind me (on a slant so as not to poke anyone's eye out, but enough to give a hint). Sure enough, my heels were unscathed for the rest of the way. Guess I'll have to bring that umbrella next time I head to WDW in the peak season!

Our neighbor called, and we arranged to meet near Barnie’s. As we waited, my husband and I marveled at the horror of the traffic trying to exit town. Actually, the horror began with the frenzied attempts just to get out of the parking lots. In the nearby alley, the kids were still running amok with sparklers and getting a little more bold with the firecrackers. Eventually our neighbor showed up; she had stopped to chat with several friends along the way. Her friend who had driven stared in abject horror at her car. It was still safely parked, but now it was surrounded on all sides by vehicles piloted by frenzied people trying to get out of the lot sometime before midnight. We left her to her dilemma and headed home on foot.

The paths of Celebration are literally wild places at night. In the past, I have encountered snakes and deer, and on this night, some sort of insects, amphibians or reptiles were making a strange noise that was eeriely human. The noises grew louder and more steady once we had passed the Lake Evalyn area and were following the lake behind Millionaires Row in East Village. If I closed my eyes, I could easily imagine that I was in a swamp in the Everglades instead of a man-made path a 10-minute walk from home.

Once we got into our neighborhood, we could see that the party wasn't over yet. We passed some people setting off various fireworks in the middle of the street (I guess it's good they weren't doing it in the grass so they wouldn't start a fire), and in the sky we saw some fireworks that were definitely of the professional variety. I don't know which of our neighbors was shooting them, but they put on quite a decent show. In the background, we could hear the distant thunder of the Epcot 10 p.m. show, and Mother Nature was still checking in with intermittent lighting.

When we reach our driveways, my husband decided that we should all have a nightcap before turning in. He broke out the wine and Jack Daniels coolers (their berry drink is outstanding, and the hard lemonade is a close second), while I booted up my laptop and we logged in to Tom's site for a replay of the Fourth of July parade. My neighbor doesn't even have a computer or internet hookup; I don't know how she lives without them! So I keep her up to date on the latest online gossip and photos.

Finally, the hour was getting late so we reluctantly decided to call it a night. It had been a long, full day, with Disney World fun and small-town festivities. It reminded me of the Fourth of July bash that used to take place in one of the little suburbs near where I grew up. That bash has long since gone the way of the dodo, and I'm sure that the same has happened in communities throughout the United States. Thank God their spirit lives on in the town of Celebration!

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

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